ST. LOUIS (AP) — Hillary Rodham Clinton is putting America’s struggle with race relations at the forefront of her presidential campaign, joining with church members near the epicenter of violent protests in Ferguson, Missouri, as the nation grapples with the deadly shootings of nine black church members in South Carolina.
The leading Democratic presidential contender plans to attend a community meeting Tuesday, June 23, at a church in Florissant, Missouri, a short drive from the site of the unrest in Ferguson after the August death of Michael Brown, a black, unarmed 18-year-old, who was shot by white Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. Brown’s death spurred outrage and led to a national “Black Lives Matter” movement demanding changes in how police deal with minorities.
Clinton largely avoided giving race relations a prominent role in her 2008 Democratic campaign against Barack Obama, who was vying to become the nation’s first black president at the time. Yet the former secretary of state has leaned into a number of issues closely watched by African-Americans this time, discussing the need to change the criminal justice system, improving access to voting and helping minority small business owners.
Clinton’s campaign hopes to mobilize black voters in large numbers in the 2016 election, building upon the coalition of minority, young and liberal voters who powered Obama’s two White House campaigns. The message has taken fresh urgency since last week’s church massacre in Charleston, South Carolina, which happened shortly after Clinton campaigned in the city.
“This is a time for people in the public domain and the public square to speak what they believe, not give us political talk,” said Marc Morial, the president of the National Urban League, whose organization has called for the removal of public displays of the Confederate flag. “This tragedy is a time when we get to test their convictions.”
In suburban St. Louis, Clinton’s meeting will be hosted by the Rev. Traci Blackmon, the pastor of Christ the King United Church of Christ in Florissant and a member of the Ferguson Commission, a panel tasked with making recommendations to address underlying social and economic issues connected to the riots.
Clinton’s campaign said the conversation will “address the massacre in Charleston and broader issues around strengthening communities.”
South Carolina’s Republican governor, Nikki Haley, announced Monday that she would seek the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the grounds of the statehouse. The 21-year-old man charged with murder in the church shootings appeared in photographs waving the Confederate flag. Clinton wrote on Twitter Monday, June 22, that Haley was right to call for the “removal of a symbol of hate” in South Carolina.
In a weekend speech to U.S. mayors in San Francisco, Clinton called for “common-sense” gun reforms in the aftermath of the South Carolina shooting, and said the nation’s racial divide couldn’t be attributed to “all kooks and Klansman. It’s also in the cruel joke that goes unchallenged. It’s in the offhand comments about not wanting ‘those people’ in the neighborhood.”
“We can’t hide from any of these hard truths about race and justice in America. We have to name them and own them and then change them,” she said.
Associated Press writer Lisa Lerer in Washington contributed to this report.
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